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Michael Bell
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Posted By Michael Bell

“Did Poe’s Annabel Lee have a brother? Was her name really Leigh, but written ‘Lee’ by the poet to disguise her identity?

“The convict burying ground of the penitentiary at Huntsville, Texas, appears to have been a resting place for one of the fantastic creations of Edgar Allan Poe’s grotesquely morbid mind—a story that seems to bear a strange relation to the poem.”

Thus begins the New York Sun article that purports to have found a lost Poe short story. While digging in the prison cemetery, the story goes, an old oak chest, cornered with copper and “decayed, worm eaten, rusted with years of interment,” was uncovered. Almost miraculously, it “seemed to have come to light just as its inner lining was yielding to the ravages of time and decay as if to discharge its treasures now that it could no longer protect them.” Of the four papers found in the box, one “contained the faint autograph: ‘William Leigh, of Maryland,’ and the note: ‘A crazy missive from my friend E. P.’”—evidence, the article’s authors assert, that “seems to point at once to the connection between ‘E. P.’ and Edgar Allan Poe. It is rather amusing to notice the classification of the story as a ‘crazy missive.’ This was quite in accordance with the public opinion of the works of Edgar Allan Poe during his lifetime.

“How could Poe have been especially interested in William Leigh, of Maryland? His tragic death also occurred in Baltimore. There is a curious similarity between the names of Poe’s beautiful Annabel Lee and ‘E. P.’s’ friend William Leigh. Was this similarity more than coincidence? Could the Annabel Lee of the poem have really been Annabel Leigh, the sister or relative of William Leigh?  And could thus a friendship between the two men have sprung up?”

Before presenting the undamaged portion of the manuscript, the authors admit that, “Whether or not it is the child of Edgar Allan Poe’s brain must remain a mystery,” but hedge their bets by arguing that, because of “its fantastic conception” and “splendid execution, it seems that hardly another brain could have created a work so nearly in accord with the morbidly grewsome [sic] writings of Allan Poe.”

Does the story really stack up to those that we know were authored by Poe? To help answer this question, I asked a friend—an English professor who teaches Poe—what she thought of the “poisonous vampire vine.” Her reply seemed to come down on the side of hoax:  “I haven’t heard of such an item. Certainly the ‘evidence’ of it’s being Poe’s production which is cited in the accompanying article is thin. And the fact that much is summary—the giving of the elixir to the protagonist’s wife and sons especially—makes me suspicious. Poe had a tendency to include at the center of such tales a beautiful doomed woman, and this piece, in consigning the woman to exposition, misses a HUGE opportunity to trod the Poe-preferred ‘beautiful doomed’ path! The section which reads ‘Thy pride has caused thee to seek out things that men should never know’ sounds a bit ham-handed, theme-wise, but then Poe could be ham-handed.”

She suggested that I send the newspaper article to the editors of two of the leading journals devoted to Poe and his works. The very short note of the one who responded actually became an important piece in the puzzle I was beginning to assemble.

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